SoccerNet Live

Tottenham manager Juande Ramos vowed to tighten up his rearguard and he is not averse to overhauling the entire defense with new blood as the transfer window beckons.

He said: “If we cannot sort the problems out with the players we already have, then we will look outside for other players. We are paying dearly for defensive lapses. In the past few weeks, we have made it a habit of conceding goals from set-pieces and it is so hard to win matches letting in so many goals that way.”

The reason for Ramos outburst was two defensive errors which gifted Aston Villa a 2-1 victory. Tottenham looked especially vulnerable and panicky whenever Villa lined up to take corners or free-kicks. The front line is not faring any better as they struggled to break down Villa’s defense. Ramos frustration with his team is apparent when he used all three substitutes before the hour was up.

I don’t blame Ramos. It was a massive letdown after several impressive performances when he first came on board but towards the end of 2007, Tottenham resumed their ineptitude. Spurs have now let in seven goals during their last three Premiere League games.

The shambles of a defense Ramos is referring to will no doubt include Kevin Boateng who was particularly awful and by far, the weakest link. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if he continue in this manner, his future at Tottenham could come to a premature end.

Besides the leaky defense which needs plugging, Ramos is also busy fending off rumors that their talented striker Dimitar Berbatov would be sold in the January transfer window. Berbatov, who scored four goals in Tottenham’s 6-4 victory over Reading last Saturday, has been linked with prominent Premiere League clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal since his transfer to Spurs in July 2006.

“Obviously Berbatov’s agent is looking to do his business and has been making comments,” Ramos was quoted as saying on BBC. Berbatov’s agent had said earlier in the week that the striker would leave Tottenham if a big club made an offer.

“But we are happy because we have the player on a contract and we plan to keep him. We want to improve and we want to go to a better level — he has to stay.”

Ramos however conceded that Berbatov, 26, could be sold if Tottenham receive an offer higher than the British record 30 million pounds fee that Chelsea paid AC Milan to sign Andriy Shevchenko in 2006.

Ramos said: “I think a club would have to break the British transfer record to sign Berbatov. At this moment Berbatov’s value is more than this price. It’s normal that the clubs would have to pay such an amount because there are very few players of his class. He’s the only great player who has not played in the Champions League that they could sign.”

Ramos would be able to strengthen Tottenham squad significantly if Berbatov fetched such a princely sum and it makes business sense since Berbatov moved to Tottenham for only 10.9 million pounds from Bayer Leverkusen. However, replacing a forward of his calibre will be extremely difficult and leave Ramos with a more taxing task of leading Tottenham to Europe.

Tottenham’s reputation as a club challenging for major honours had already suffered in the past with Michael Carrick’s transfer to Manchester United in 2006. If they do not make half-decent attempts to hold on to their prized treasure, nobody will take them seriously, and talents will think twice about coming to a club with little ambitions.

As for Aston Villa, it is hard to get the better of them these days. Under the guidance of Martin O’ Neill, Villa are a different proposition - compact, industrious and disciplined. The players know what is expected of them and implement the game plan effectively.

This tactic (maximise play on the touchline, entice Spurs to kick the ball out and then take advantage of free kicks and throw-ins awarded) worked beautifully to bring about Tottenham’s downfall. Not surprisingly, Villa’s two goals came from set-pieces. A header by Olof Mellberg and an identical effort by Martin Laursen from a free kick and corner respectively, sealed a victory for Villa.

Villa have now mastered set-pieces into an art and have scored more goals from dead-ball situations than any other team in the Premiere League. O’Neil said: Set-pieces are a part of the game. Big matches are decided by them. If we get one, we have players who can deliver a good ball into the area. They invite people to attack the ball.”

Villa were without their striker John Carew, again in the treatment room after several cameo appearances. In his absence, Luke Young was chosen to partner the pacy Gabriel Agbonlahor but he did himself no favors by contributing little. Young missed a gilt-edged chance to double his team’s lead and his four shots on target were barely threatening. Fortunately, O’Neil had his defenders to count on.

Martin Laursen was impressive and shackled Berbatov for the entire match. He was first to every challenge and he has spare time to pop up with a massive winner. O’Neil said: “Laursen was a colossus against Tottenham, but he has been all season, to be fair. He has got this great knack of scoring goals and is playing like a man possessed.”

Villa’s next match against Manchester United at home will be interesting. Recent history suggests that Man United will triumph as they have won the last 12 matches between the pair and have dumped Villa out of the FA Cup in the last six years. However, Villa are now on song, and having earned the respect of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool at Villa Park, while Man United has lost a bit of firepower in their last couple of matches, there is every chance that Aston Villa will shatter that miserable record against United this weekend.


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